Journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov died today in prison in Kyrgyzstan. Askarov's son told CPJ this photo showed the journalist's "last summer in freedom." (Photo: Sherzod Askarov)

Journalist Azimjon Askarov dies in prison in Kyrgyzstan

New York, July 25, 2020 – In response to the death of award-winning journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov in a Kyrgyzstan prison today, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

 “Azimjon Askarov’s death is a direct result of Kyrgyzstan authorities’ disregard for his health and basic human rights. This is a tragedy that could have been prevented,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “A brave, courageous, outspoken journalist and human rights defender, Askarov should not have spent one day in prison, let alone the last decade of his life. We express condolences to his family and call on Kyrgyz authorities to establish the cause of death and assist his family in transporting the journalist’s body and burying him in Uzbekistan, according to his last wishes.”

Askarov’s son Sherzod Askarov confirmed the journalist’s death to CPJ via messaging app.

The journalist’s wife, Khadicha Askarova, told CPJ via messaging app that Askarov had been sick, unable to walk, and had a fever for the past two weeks. She told CPJ that she suspected he contracted COVID-19 in prison, but said the prison administration did not test him for the virus.

On July 24, Askarova told CPJ that the journalist was transferred to Prison Colony 47 near Bishkek, the capital, “apparently for diagnostics” and added, “I hope he will come out alive. He served several years in that prison and it was awful.”

Askarov, who turned 69 in May, was imprisoned in June 2010 for his coverage of ethnic conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan, and previously spent more than a decade reporting on alleged corruption among law enforcement in the country. Authorities refused to drop his life sentence, despite calls from CPJ and other international organizations, including from the U.N. Human Rights Committee. In May, Askarov lost his final cassation appeal at the Supreme court.  

Askarov received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2012.

[Editors’ note: This article has been corrected in its final paragraph to remove a line stating that Askarov was the only CPJ awardee to have died in prison; Eritrean journalist Fesshaye Yohannes also received CPJ’s award and died in detention.]